Why Is New York City Planning to Sell and Shrink Its Libraries?

Defend our libraries, don't defund them. . . . . fund 'em, don't plunder 'em

Mayor Bloomberg defunded New York libraries at a time of increasing public use, population growth and increased city wealth, shrinking our library system to create real estate deals for wealthy real estate developers at a time of cutbacks in education and escalating disparities in opportunity. It’s an unjust and shortsighted plan that will ultimately hurt New York City’s economy and competitiveness.

It should NOT be adopted by those we have now elected to pursue better policies.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

On Eve of 10/29/’17 Debate With Victoria Cambranes, Challenger For His Office, Councilman Steve Levin Sends Transparency Request Letter to Brooklyn Public Library Promised in Spring 2015 (But it’s deficient!)

Asking about the letter sent on the eve of the debate . . . And Levin's answer was?
On the afternoon of his October 29, 2017 debate with Victoria Cambranes, the challenger for the NYC 33rd Council District he holds Steve Levin forwarded to Citizens Defending Libraries a version of a letter he had promised in the spring of 2015 to demand transparency from the Brooklyn Public Library about the sale of Brooklyn Libraries and particularly the Brooklyn Heights Library.

It would, of course, be nice for Councilman Levin to have demanded transparency from the BPL about it sale of the library in 2015, before the library sale was approved and consummated.

Another problem, almost as significant, the letter that Councilman Levin so belatedly sent side-steps requesting a lot of the most important information that needs to be requested for the sake of achieving transparency, like what’s the actual cost and public loss associated with selling the library, information about the financial windfall from the transaction to the private Saint Ann's school, what was being spent on high-paid lobbyists to push the library sale transaction forward, and how many books were disappearing from Downtown Brooklyn with the sell-off of this central destination library, the second biggest in Brooklyn.

Citizens Defending Libraries has been pursuing Councilman Levin for some time now to have Councilman Levin fulfill his fundamental obligation to work with the community to obtain this transparency.  But Councilman Levin has been avoiding it.  See:
Councilman Stephen T. Levin Comes To Speak About His Approving The Sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library at Independent Neighborhood Democrats Meeting- Doesn't Answer Questions Asked, Including Whether & When He Will Insist on Transparency from the BPL (Thursday, February 18, 2016)
 Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats passed a resolution asking for such transparency that Councilman Levin did not respond to.  See:
Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats Resolution Calling Upon Councilman Steve Levin To Demand Transparency From Brooklyn Public Library Respecting Its Library Sales. ( Thursday, April 28, 2016)
Not surprisingly the question of the letter came up during Councilman Levin’s debate with Victoria Cambranes.  It was during the Q&A.  You can hear it specifically addressed in the video below starting at minute 1:20.

From Victoria Cambranes Facebook Page- Preserved Live Stream Part 2 (for best possible viewing also click through to Facebook posting also posted on the Citizens Defending Libraries page.)

In the exchange of communications below you will find the letter Councilman sent to BPL president Linda Johnson dated October 27, 2017, Councilman Levin’s debate afternoon transmittal of it to Citizens Defending Libraries and the reply that day of Citizens Defending Libraries noting its insufficiencies with an itemization of what was drafted and left out of the letter.
October 29, 2017
Dear Councilman Levin,

Thank you for letting us know you sent the October 27, 2017 letter below.

A quick review looks to me as if the letter that you have now sent out to BPL president Johnson as you were promising back in the spring of 2015 asks president Johnson to supply some information in exactly the same form the BPL has previously been stating it for PR purposes (and therefore, we believe, in a somewhat obfuscatory manner) and it sidesteps asking for the following information needed for real transparency (previously identified as drafted below):
    •    Information about the true and complete costs to the public of selling and shrinking this library as proposed.  That includes:
    •        The current value, from the public’s perspective, of the recently expanded and fully upgraded library being given up (i.e. not from the perspective of the acquiring developer who sees its value as less than that of a vacant lot).
    •        What it would cost to replace the asset that is being given up (including land and development rights), in total apparently well over $120+ million.
    •        All the costs, including construction and design, associated with moving the Business, Career and Education functions of the library from Downtown Brooklyn and reestablishing them at the Grand Army Plaza Library.  Also please supply the date and details about when those Education functions were moved from Grand Army Plaza to the Brooklyn Heights Library because of, as I understand it, the shortage of space at Grand Army Plaza.
    •        It should also include all the costs of disruptions and what the public must forgo and bear to undergo this transaction.  That should include, among other things, the cost of moving books back and forth as well as storing them off-site.
    •    The background communications between the BPL and the Department of Design and Construction based upon which representations about the acceptability and suitability of the air conditioning at the Brooklyn Heights Library were made to this council district’s office, back when David Yassky held my office, before any planned sale and shrinkage of the library.  Information has also been requested and not furnished to the public about the air conditioning repair firm, Performance Mechanical Corporation, that the BPL engaged in an extended multi–year contract for its entire system not all that long before problems with the Brooklyn Heights Library’s and a number of other air library’s air conditioning systems started receiving attention.  Early analysis in this regard about the Brooklyn Heights Library (2007/2008) by Karen Backus and communications regarding the air conditioning have also not been provided.

    •    Information about your communications with the city’s Landmarks Commission about which historic libraries might get designated as such, and which libraries the BPL has indicated it would, instead, prefer to push forward into real estate deals avoiding such likely appropriate designation.

    •    Further, it is my impression that in a time when the scarcity of available funds is cited as troubling, the BPL is spending a considerable amount of money on consultants and lobbyists in connection with its promotion of its real estate plans for libraries.  The requested information about this has not been furnished.  It is a matter about which the BPL needs to be forthcoming.  That includes monies paid to Booz & Co., BerlinRosen, WSP Flack & Kurtz, K&K Property Solutions, Ed Tettemer and Mo (Maureen) Craig for branding and PR advice.

    •    Information about book counts: what they have been, what they are now and what they are intended to be in the future.  For instance, the BPL and the architect representing it, and the developer in this regard have not been able to state what the book shelf capacity of the entire Brooklyn Heights Library (we are not talking about supposed branch sub-component) has historically been, or what it is intended to be in the future.  Information respecting the entire system would be relevant.

    •    All communications with Saint Ann's School respecting development rights and the Brooklyn Heights Library. As you know (to provide perspective on this), what Saint Ann's School will net in income, motivating it to push for this transaction is proportionately more in the scheme of things given that half the city’s development rights were already transferred to Forest City Ratner in 1986. Saint Ann’s, with all its extra development rights still intact, doesn’t have to tear down its own building or incur a loss to cash in. By contrast, the library’s potential sale of its air rights is not such a painless transaction or opportunity.
So for instance, besides not asking about the costs of selling the Brooklyn Heights Library, you chose to ask about book counts for the Downtown Brooklyn Heights Library not regarding it as Brooklyn's second biggest library, a central destination library, but only about books that the BPL might nominally assign as associated with its branch functions.

Nevertheless, obtaining the Strategic Real Estate plan and the Revson Study will be important (we may have actually obtained the latter now, but have yet to confirm this to be the case).

Citizens Defending Libraries

* * * *

From: Levin, Stephen <SLevin@council.nyc.gov>
To:  [Michael D. D. White & Carolyn McIntyre]
Sent: Sun, Oct 29, 2017 3:12 pm
Subject: Letter to BPL President Johnson

Dear Michael and Carolyn,
Below please find the text of the letter that I sent to BPL President Johnson on Friday, October 27, 2017. Thank you.


Stephen Levin
New York City Council Member, District 33

October 27, 2017

Linda Johnson
President, Brooklyn Public Library
10 Grand Army Plaza
Brooklyn, NY 11238

Dear President Johnson,

I hope this letter finds you well. I am writing at this time because, as it has been almost two years since the Council's approval of the disposition and sale of the Brooklyn Heights branch of the Brooklyn Public Library to Hudson Companies and its subsequent development, I think it is a good time to circle back on some of the issues that were debated during that process. As you know, many members of the public and constituents of the 33rd District, who were both for and against this action, were very passionate about preserving our libraries, both in terms of their physical spaces and in terms of the services that are provided to the public in our libraries. Many of those constituents continue to ask me for additional information pertaining to BPL.

As you know, one of the primary reasons why BPL pursued the disposition and sale at Brooklyn Heights to Hudson Companies was to help address the significant capital needs throughout the entire BPL system. In light of that consideration, I am requesting that BPL provide me information regarding the current financial picture at BPL.

I would appreciate any information that is available regarding the funds that were generated by the disposition and sale at Brooklyn Heights.. Specifically, I am asking:

-How much funding was generated by the sale?
-To which capital needs will the proceeds of the sale be directed?
-Are there additional real estate transactions throughout the system that BPL is continuing to consider along the lines of the Brooklyn Heights sale? I have heard for some years about a "strategic real estate" plan and "Revson study"-do these documents exist and can you provide them to me?
-Can you provide me with any current documents that present an overview of BPL's financial situation such as you provide to members of your board?

Also, with regard specifically to the Brooklyn Heights branch, can you provide me with the book count of Brooklyn Heights branch at his highest number prior to its disposition (both the local branch and the business branch) compared to the proposed replacement branch? Lastly, can you provide a similar comparison regarding the amount of shelf space at the Brooklyn Heights branch before and after the sale.

Thank you very much for your consideration and l look forward to continuing to work with you to further a love of learning for all Brooklyn residents.

Best regards,
Stephen Levin
Councilmember, 33rd District

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